Cold wind cut across us as I climbed into the white Mt. Ebell church van behind Rodney Stabler Sunday afternoon. It was much warmer inside, including the reception of the other passengers. Everyone smiled and welcomed me, all in good spirits as we traveled a few blocks away and unloaded next to two City of Brent Police vehicles that would escort the group on their walk through the streets.
As we prepared to start the march in tribute of the famous civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery that took place in March of 1965 – which was lead by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – on the day before the national Martin Luther King Day holiday, the whole group joined hands for a prayer. Hands reached out to include me, and as I joined the prayer circle the reverence of the moment struck me.
Pastor Gregory Dumas lead the prayer and afterwards discussed why we were there: to honor the man who left a legacy of freedom, equality, and peaceful protests that changed the world for the better in the 1960’s. Without the use of violence, but through thoughtful words and determined action, Dr. King and other leaders of the civil rights movement sought to bring justice and equality for African-Americans. They fought for voting rights, and to end the violence perpetrated against the black residents of Alabama especially, but all over the country as well.
As I began walking with the group, I recalled the videos of marchers in 1965. As participants began to sing hymns that recalled the tone of that original march from Selma, I wondered what it must have been like to have been there, walking along behind Dr. King on the way to a hopefully better future. I thought about the enormous crowd – the thousands of people who marched – and I wondered why there were so few people in this commemorative march. There were only three young men in the group who appeared possibly around 20 years old. Everyone else probably being between 30 and 60, and there were only about a dozen there in all.
“We’ve lost the cornerstones,” Dr. Earnie Cutts said in an interview after the commemorative march (seen in the video). The cornerstones as he put it, meaning the community leaders who held it all together and encouraged the younger generations, passing down the legacy and memory of the struggles and achievements of generations past, have perhaps largely not had their shoes filled as they passed away, seemed to be Cutts’ meaning. Community leaders still exist, as is evidenced by the men and women who walked Sunday. But, what of the younger generation? Who is next?
How do we engage the newer generation to remember and continue the legacy? How do we get more people to participate in the commemorative marches and to learn the history of Dr. King and others who sacrificed so much? How do we prevent the meaning of it all from being lost to apathy?
There is no more inspiring historical figure in my mind than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On this day to commemorate his legacy, let us hope that the new generations continue to learn and remember what all he and his contemporaries did – what all they truly went through in their non-violent fight. While the famous “I have a dream” speech is certainly a crucial part of cultural memory, there was much more to it than that.
I ran across this video (link below) of Dr. King being interviewed on Meet the Press about a week after the Selma march. I encourage all who would take the 20 minutes to watch it, and listen to his words and tone of conviction as he explained his methods and meaning.
Encourage the younger generation to learn about Dr. King, regardless of the color of their skin. It is truly the content of character that the world seems lacking nowadays, regardless of skin color. No it is not gone. There are leaders. But, we need more. Teach them. Encourage them. Invite them to participate. Let us not leave the world worse than we received it from the likes of Dr. King, but continue his legacy of peaceful progress until the world is truly colorblind.